Justice for Injured People

06 March 2017

Tom Jones, head of policy at Thompsons solicitors, reveals how access to justice for injured people is under attack by the government – and what we can do about it:

 

Before Christmas, the government finally published its plans – first announced in November 2015 – which would, if pushed through, severely restrict access to justice for injured people in England and Wales. The government’s proposals, which they gave people very little time to comment on over Christmas, would affect nearly 1 million injured people every year, removing their right to access free or affordable independent legal advice.

Currently, the system allows injured people to claim back their legal expenses for damages above £1,000. If your compensation for your pain and suffering falls below £1,000 – regardless of how much your losses and expenses have been – you get your compensation but no legal costs.

 

A DANGEROUS CON

If the government gets its way, the £1,000 limit will increase 500% to £5,000. In a single, destructive stroke this would force 95% of all personal injury claimants to take the cost of getting independent legal advice out of their own pocket rather than it being paid by those who caused the injury. Many people will be put off bringing a case in the first place, even when they are fully entitled to.

While the government says its proposals are designed to tackle a problem with what they call ‘fraud’ in ‘whiplash’ claims, this is a dangerous con – a fig leaf – and the consultation document proves that the government actually wants to impose the small claims limit increase in all personal injury claims, whether they occur in the workplace, on the road, or anywhere else.

This massive change cannot be justified on any legal, moral or economic grounds and is not supported by any independent evidence.

We represented an ASLEF member, Alison, who suffered injuries to her left shoulder and ribs after a bus crashed into the side of the tram she was driving. She was left with a dislocated collar bone and damage to her ribs and a tendon in her left shoulder. She couldn’t work for two months and still remains nervous on the roads. Working with ASLEF, we secured £5,000 in compensation for her.

If the government is allowed to put through these changes, injured people like Alison will be stripped of their access to justice and left to fight insurers on their own in their own time. They will end up not knowing whether to accept the insurer’s injury valuation, which – in our long experience at Thompsons – we know they will more than likely try to under-settle.

The changes, in effect, mean a huge cheque being paid by the government from your taxes to insurers, their multi-millionaire bosses, and their shareholders.

 

THE PRIVILEGED FEW

Theresa MayUsing the government’s own figures – which are a gross underestimate – these proposals would see our already squeezed NHS lose at least £9 million per year, and the Treasury – and, therefore, public services including schools and the NHS – lose at least £135 million every year.

Meanwhile, the government admits that the insurers will benefit to the tune of £200 million each year.

The proposed change to the small claims limit would mean the end of long-established principles of UK law – that the polluter should pay for all the consequences of their negligence – and directly attack the right of injured people to pursue damages using an independent solicitor.

The government has been talking up scare stories of a ‘compensation culture’ and ‘whiplash fraud’ when its own statistics show that the number of work injury cases has dropped by 12% over the last ten years, and admits there is no suggestion of fraud by injured workers.

The government skates over the fact that the insurance industry’s own figures show they have saved a staggering £8.7 billion in costs for motor insurance claims in the last five years. And, yet, premiums are higher now than in 2010 and have increased by 17% in the last year alone. I bet your car insurance hasn’t got cheaper, has it?

We investigated the pay of the CEOs of the top three insurers and found that their salaries, benefits, bonuses and dividends gave them earnings in 2015 ranging from £4.82 million (Paul Geddes of Direct Line) to £37.82 million (Henry Engelhardt at Admiral). Mark Wilson of Aviva doubled his pay to £5.67 million.

On the steps of Downing Street, when she spoke for the first time as Prime Minister, Theresa May said her government would not work for the ‘privileged few’ but for those who are ‘just about managing’. It is hard to think of many people who better fit the definition of the ‘privileged few’ than these insurance CEOs.

The detail in the government’s consultation confirms that these proposals would mean even less money for vital public services, already suffering from the Tories’ vindictive budget cuts, and more money for highly profitable insurers and their grossly overpaid chief executives.

 

SIMPLY UNACCEPTABLE

The insurers are raking it in and are happy to see premiums go up while hardworking people on low incomes, who struggle to afford to drive a car to get to work, bear the brunt.

It is the same people who are being told that their injury, worth ‘just’ £5,000, is too ‘minor’ to deserve the support of an expert lawyer. Let Theresa May or Justice Secretary Liz Truss tell a carer, nurse or cleaner working long hours every week that £5,000 is a ‘small’ sum and see how they react.

The audacity of those receiving such eye-watering rewards packages is staggering – they lobby for changes to the small claims limit that will mean more profit for them and leave people injured at work, or on the roads, out in the cold.

It is simply unacceptable.

 

 

You can help defeat these unfair and vindictive proposals. Please put pressure on the government to think again by writing to your MP (you can find a draft letter at www.feedingfatcats.co.uk. Follow twitter.com/FeedingFatCats and sign the online petition at petition.parliament.uk/petitions/173099

Back »

By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies. For more information please refer to ASLEF’s Privacy Policy